How Lincoln Riley flipped USC haters into key members of his Trojans coaching staff

Washington State outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons, center, talks to the offense after they warmed up before a game against Oregon State on Oct. 12, 2013. Simmons followed Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to USC. (Dean Hare / Associated Press)

Through two decades of friendship, Dennis Simmons felt he had a pretty good read on Lincoln Riley. They met at Texas Tech when Riley was 19 and transitioning from quarterback to coach-in-training, supported each other through weddings and the early stages of fatherhood, and, after Riley took over for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, he eventually named Simmons his associate head coach.

And yet, Simmons was not remotely prepared for the phone call he got from Riley on a Sunday in late November, just hours after the Sooners lost to in-state rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

“Not gonna lie, extremely shocked,” Simmons said.

USC? Like, for real?

“I need you there,” Simmons recalled Riley saying.

“What time and where?” Simmons responded.

“The relationship, friendship and brotherhood that Lincoln and I share,” Simmons explained, “is a very strong bond.”

Early the next morning, Simmons left his wife and two kids in Norman and boarded USC’s private plane with Riley, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie and director of operations Clarke Stroud to embark on a grand adventure.

The four former Sooners staff members, quickly labeled as traitors by the Oklahoma fan base, accompanied Riley that Monday to his introductory news conference. They did not speak then, but two months later, a day after the Trojans welcomed 13 new transfers into the program, USC made Simmons, Grinch, and seven other assistants available to discuss their backgrounds, philosophies and motivations for joining Riley in L.A.

Grinch got the same call from Riley as Simmons…


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